7 Classic Old-Fashioned Variations

Timeless variations on the Old-Fashioned Cocktail

  • 8 Drink
  • Updated: Nov 4, 2016
  • Photo credit: Will Shenton

The Old-Fashioned is a straightforward cocktail. Sugar, water, bitters, whiskey, and a twist of citrus, mixed and served in a simple glass with a single, large ice cube. But just because it eschews the flowery trappings of some of its cousins (though it has, at times, strayed a little too far into fruit-salad territory) doesn’t mean it’s uninteresting. In fact, its populist simplicity is exactly what makes it such an enduring recipe, and also what makes it a ripe target for experimentation.

Riffing on the Classic Old-Fashioned

Even the classic Old-Fashioned has quite a bit of built-in flexibility, as it can be made equally true to tradition with either bourbon or rye whiskey. While these might not seem like drastically different liquors, they create two remarkably distinct versions of the cocktail. As we discussed in our introductory Old-Fashioned article, bourbon tends to make a sweeter, rounder drink, while rye has a little more dryness and kick. There are other considerations as well: whether to use granulated sugar and a muddler or the less labor-intensive simple syrup, which of the many flavors and brands of bitters to buy, and whether to use the peel of an orange or a lemon for garnish. These simple choices alone are the subjects of frequent, spirited debate among enthusiasts.

While purists may cry heresy at the thought of calling anything an Old-Fashioned that doesn’t follow strict instructions laid out in the 19th century, we at Bevvy like to take a more open-minded approach. This past decade has seen the drink’s popularity skyrocket, and restless, 21st century mixologists have been tinkering with the recipe ever since. Some of the alterations are as simple as substituting a novel spirit in place of the traditional options. More iconoclastic variations feature additions like absinthe, cinnamon, and that beloved—but polarizing—vice of San Franciscans, Fernet-Branca.

Our Favorite Old-Fashioned Variations

Here we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite innovative takes on this stately cocktail. A few of them date back to its pre-Prohibition heyday, while the rest are contemporary inventions from some of the world’s most accomplished mixologists. These ought to keep you busy for a while, but don’t forget that they only represent the tip of this tipple’s iceberg. The Old-Fashioned can be tweaked, customized, and “perfected” pretty much endlessly. Here’s to going down the rabbit hole.

And for the adventurous among you, we’ve got plenty of other great Old-Fashioned variations to check out!

  • Rye Whiskey, Gum Syrup, Bitters, Lemon Peel
    This is the original Whiskey Cocktail recipe from Jerry Thomas' classic book How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon Vivant's Companion, published in 1862.  It is, as far as anyone can agree, the first cocktail ever—technically it could be made with any spirit, but whiskey became the most popular. Gum syrup can be a little hard to find, so simple syrup works in a…
  • brandy, Angostura bitters, sugar, water
  • Bourbon or rye whiskey, Angostura bitters, sugar cube, orange peel
    The Old-Fashioned cocktail dates back to the turn of the nineteenth century—the very dawn of the word “cocktail” itself—and is often regarded as the most essential of the classic cocktails, if not the best-known whiskey drink of all time.The Old-Fashioned cocktail is a simple drink, consisting of bourbon or rye whiskey, sugar or simple syrup, Angostura bitte…
  • Genever, orange bitters, sugar cube, orange twist
    A variation on the Old-Fashioned featuring genever, the predecessor of modern gin originating in the Netherlands and Belgium.
  • Absinthe, simple syrup, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, Peychaud's bitters
    Invented by bartender Doug Petry of Rye in Louisville, Kentucky, this cocktail truly stretches the boundaries of its namesake. While it presents a soft color palette (reddish Peychaud’s bitters floated atop milky white absinthe), the Absinthe Old-Fashioned packs a punch. If you didn’t already have enough reasons to make a pilgrimage to Kentucky and explore i…
  • Añejo tequila, agave nectar, Angostura bitters, grated cinnamon
    Featuring a truly authentic speakeasy atmosphere (the doorman asks for a password upon arrival) and inventive takes on classic tipples, San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch has become legendary in the cocktail community. This Old-Fashioned variation, concocted by Erick Castro, employs the smoky sippability of añejo tequila and agave nectar to create a compel…
  • Bruichladdich Scotch, simple syrup, Peychaud's bitters, Bittermens hopped grapefruit bitters, orange twist, grapefruit twist
    Invented by Joaquin Simo of Death & Co in Manhattan, the Young Laddie is an Old-Fashioned variation that uses Bruichladdich scotch (pronounced "brook-laddie," hence the name of the cocktail) instead of bourbon or rye. While the recipe calls for grapefruit bitters, it works pretty well with Angostura if you don't have any lying around. That said, using bo…
  • Buffalo Trace bourbon, Fernet Branca, sugar cube, Angostura bitters, lemon twist
    A variation on the Old-Fashioned cocktail concocted by Robert Simonson, illustrious author of The Old-Fashioned, that uses a bit of Fernet-Branca to keep this classic interesting.

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